ILRI weekly roundup examines how researchers can strengthen their policy influence

At the ILRI weekly round-up on November 26, ILRI’s policy and engagement advisor Cynthia Mugo facilitated a discussion with Joseph Karugia, coordinator of the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System for eastern and central Africa (ReSAKSS-ECA), in a session titled ‘Linking Research to Policy: Lessons from ReSAKSS’. The two delved into Karugia’s experience with the ReSAKSS project to learn how ILRI researchers can strengthen their policy influence in the developing world.

ReSAKSS was established in 2006 by the African Union to support the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) which focuses on improving food security, nutrition and livelihoods in Africa by raising agricultural productivity and increasing public investment in agriculture. As the head of the eastern and central African node of ReSAKSS for the last 14 years, Karugia was tasked with determining how African governments should allocate funds and prioritize policies to achieve these goals. 

Drawing on his vast experience working at the intersection of research and policy, Karugia began by highlighting some of the more challenging parts of his work. CAADP is a continental framework which naturally creates ‘tension between regional and national agendas’, said Karugia. He noted that pushback from national bureaucracies can make implementing country level programs difficult, even as broader regional programs succeed. ‘There are things we need to learn about getting regional agendas translated into national actions, and that is an issue we should continue pursuing in the future’, said Karugia. 

Given these challenges, Mugo asked Karugia what advice he would offer to researchers hoping to strengthen their policy influence. The first step is to ‘understand the needs of your client’, said Karugia. Understanding what the knowledge needs are can help researchers not only do high-quality research but also research that is policy relevant—two things that do not always go together. Additionally, ‘the research needs to be timely’, said Karugia. The opportunity to influence policy is oftentimes short-lived, so researchers must be both ‘flexible and responsive’, willing to share their research outcomes before they are complete to help inform policy decisions. 

However, Karugia also said that ‘policy engagement is a long-term process, not a single event’. To make meaningful contributions to policy, you not only have to be willing to act quickly but also to ‘stay the course for the long-haul’, even when the outcomes of your work might not be immediately visible. 

In addition to influencing future policy, Mugo was curious as to how we can strengthen and reinforce the policy successes that programs like ReSAKSS have already achieved. The most important step is ensuring that livestock and agriculture remain central components of both regional and national agendas in Africa. This means ‘keeping our doors open to collaborate with the African Union and Akademiya 2063’, said Karugia. He also urged ILRI to continue using livestock master plans to help African countries better incorporate livestock into their national investment strategies. Overall, Karugia remains confident that ‘if we stay the course, we are likely to reinforce the achievements we have had’. 

Mugo concluded the discussion with a final question about how Karugia’s engagement with ReSAKSS has changed him as a researcher. ‘You learn to be patient, develop a thick skin and be politically correct when dealing with governments’, said Karugia. These are important lessons for researchers looking to contribute to policy-making. As Karugia said, ‘things change quickly and there are many actors, so you have to become a good negotiator to influence policy’. 


Dairy farmer, Bishweshwe village, Rwamagana district in the Eastern Province, Rwanda (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/Ethel Makila)

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